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Long March 7 payload raises anti-satellite concerns

Long March 7 rocket lifting off June 25. Credit: CMSE

A secondary payload on China’s first Long March 7 launch has raised concerns about its anti-satellite applications.

The Aolong-1 spacecraft is equipped with a robotic arm, a technology Chinese officials say is a test of future spacecraft to remove orbital debris.

However, others are concerned the spacecraft is part of Chinese efforts to develop anti-satellite weapons, noting the technology to rendezvous with a “non-cooperative target” like a defunct satellite could also move or disable an active spacecraft. [South China Morning Post]


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Aerojet Rocketdyne is consolidating its six business units into two, devoted to space and defense. The company announced the reorganization Monday, saying the consolidation would flatten top-level management of the company. Up to 10 “senior level” employees could lose their jobs. The consolidation is the latest in a series of steps by the company that it says have resulted in nearly $100 million in savings since Aerojet’s acquisition of Rocketdyne in 2013. [SpaceNews]

NASA is ready to perform a final test of the Space Launch System’s solid rocket boosters this morning. The Qualification Motor 2 test, at Orbital ATK’s Utah test site, will take place at 10:05 a.m. Eastern. The static fire test will examine how the booster performs when chilled to a temperature of about 5 degrees Celsius. It is the final planned test of the five-segment booster before the first SLS launch in late 2018. [NASASpaceFlight.com]

Eutelsat is taking steps to prepare for a rough two- to three-year period in the market. The company unveiled its strategy to weather a projected downturn in the satellite communications market by reducing capital expenditures and refinancing debt. Eutelsat will focus on the television market, which it projects will become an even larger part of its revenue, and cut out middlemen who resell capacity on its Hot Bird series of broadcasting satellites. [SpaceNews]

A new DARPA project will develop improved software for command and control of spacecraft. The Hallmark program is seeking proposals for software that can be used at military satellite operating centers to improve the visualization of and response to threats in space. The initial phase of Hallmark will focus on a proof-of-concept of the software system, while a separate solicitation will seek specific software tools for the system. [SpaceNews]

Russia is developing a plan to spin off some of its modules from the International Space Station in the 2020s. The plan, under development by RSC Energia, would use the Nauka module, scheduled to be added to the ISS no earlier than late 2017, as the core of the new Russian station. Nauka and two other modules yet to be added to the ISS, a node module and a science and power module, would separate from the ISS when the station is retired in the 2020s and become a separate, independent Russian space station. [Popular Mechanics]

A space weather observatory launched last year will formally become operational next month. NOAA announced last week that it has completed validations of the instruments on its DSCOVR spacecraft, and that it will become operational on July 27. NOAA will use DSCOVR to monitor solar activity for potential solar storms, replacing the aging ACE spacecraft. DSCOVR, launched in February 2015, was originally built by NASA in the late 1990s as the Triana spacecraft, only to be placed in storage for more than a decade before the mission was revived as DSCOVR. [Spaceflight Now]

NASA has decided not to approve travel to a major international space conference in Istanbul later this summer. Agency officials decided last week that it will not sponsor or process travel for the COSPAR conference, scheduled for July 30 to August 7. NASA cited a State Department travel warning for Turkey that advised against travel to southeastern Turkey, on the opposite side of the country from Istanbul. Len Fisk, a former NASA official who is president of COSPAR, criticized the decision, saying that it rewards terrorism. [SpacePolicyOnline]

A member of Congress from Georgia says he supports the development of a spaceport in the state. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), whose district includes the site of the proposed spaceport in Camden County, toured the area Monday and afterwards said he was “very enthusiastic” about the prospects of a launch site there. He said he wasn’t concerned with potential environmental impacts from the spaceport, despite statements from the National Park Service that launches there could restrict access to the nearby Cumberland Island National Seashore. [Brunswick (Ga.) News]

Data collected by the Curiosity Mars rover have provided new evidence Mars once had more oxygen in its atmosphere. Curiosity’s ChemCam instrument detected high levels of manganese oxides in rocks studied by the rover, materials formed only in the presence of microbes or high levels of atmospheric oxygen. That oxygen could have been created as solar radiation, reaching the surface as the planet’s primordial magnetic field dissipated, broke down water into hydrogen and oxygen. [NASA/JPL]

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Long March 7 payload raises anti-satellite concerns

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